There has been justifiable press in recent times about sporting performance enhancing drugs , the push to be bigger (Bigorexia), the pressures for a certain male image (Adonis complex), and the drip down effect of these issues into the adolescence world. The pressures come from many sources. Firstly, regular media exposure to sculpted, idealised men has meant many boys want to be toned and muscular. Secondly, the growth of professional sports means exposure at an earlier age to possible short cuts to success. The media focus, sponsorship opportunities and celebrity status combine to make it an attractive pathway. Sport has become a legitimate career path for some. Thirdly, the growth of the intensity of sporting endeavours makes it harder to keep the balance and perspectives about sport at sensible levels at the schoolboy level.
All sports have talent identification programs and they compete for their athletes earlier and earlier. Adolescent athletes are encouraged to specialise far too early and pressures are applied to achieve targets. Some sports build up false expectations on success at the elite level hence build up risky hopes on the athletes and their parents.
It is naïve to think some Newington boys have not been tempted to go down inappropriate pathways with either the use of supplements or over specialisation of one sport. The growth in commercial gyms, supplement shops and online access is another contributing factor.
It must be acknowledged that the quality of appropriate fitness and sport coaching programs has dramatically improved over the past 20 years. All similar schools to Newington have promoted a healthy lifestyle approach to sport, developed excellent coaching programs and sought to keep to our core AAGPS ethos.
What is our Newington stance in response to the above pressures? We have been using a multipronged attack that includes:
- The introduction of a unit of work within the compulsory Year 9 Personal Development, Health and Physical Education course. It covers issues about anorexia, bigorexia, diet, supplements, Adonis complex, sleep deprivation and adolescence body changes.
- The appointment of a specialist Strength and Conditioning expert (also a qualified teacher) to have oversight of fitness programs including the weights element.
- The establishment of a clear values in sport criteria (published in News Spring 2012). The key guiding words are enjoyment, growth, resilience, respect, unity and hard work.
- The active encouragement of a suitable schoolboy approach to competitive sport with the establishment of a new criteria for success.
- The publication of our guidelines for sporting development across the ages from 5 to 20 (News Autumn 2013). It serves as a reminder that there are distinct stages of development and hence different approaches must be used. It follows the heavily researched Canadian Long Term Athlete Development model. The stages are active start (0-6 years), FUNdamentals (6-9), Learning to train (9-12 years), Training to train (12-16 years) and Training to compete (15-21 years).
- The active encouragement to reduce the pressure to specialise in only one sport . We do allow provision for absolutely exceptional cases (eg a boy selected at a national level).
- The active discouragement of the use of inappropriate supplements. There remains a lack of long-term studies on the possible health risks of taking such supplements.
- The ongoing educational programs about supplements remains a high priority. In June we are hosting an information session for boys, staff and parents. Speakers include John Fahey (President World Anti-Doping Authority), Alanna Metikovec (ASADA); and Susie Burrell (Nutritionist).
- The establishment of Talent Athlete Support Program (TASP) that comes under the care of a staff member (and former National level sportsman). He coordinates information sessions for the boys and parents on key topics (psychology, diet, training regimes) and has oversight of their often complex training schedules to achieve a balance with school work and/or competing pressures.
- The appointment of a senior position of Head of Co-curricular in 2010 to have leadership of the programs, to ensure consistent approaches across all activities and to foster balance to all outside of classroom activities eg sport, music, drama, art, outdoor education. Our boys lead busy lives and have outstanding opportunities but at times need guidance to achieve the best pathway.
Newington remains committed to educating boys to be good sportsmen; to enjoy sport; to have a healthy lifestyle; to learn valuable lifelong values from sport participation, contribution, commitment, teamwork, and skill development; and to benefit from the self esteem and resilience gained from sporting endeavours.